Dongho Kim, CEO of Korea Credit Data (KCD), is an entrepreneur worthy of notice in the South Korean startup space.
After founding IDINCU, a mobile research startup, in 2011, Kim resigned after five years to start new projects in the fintech industry. He said via his social media channel that resigning was a good choice because it initiated the second chapter of IDINCU. He founded KCD only four months later.
In April 2017, KCD released CashNote, an app that provides mobile accounting software for startups, which is growing 90% per month and receiving a lot of attention from the business world. The company has also raised USD 5 million from K-cube Ventures, D.Camp, KG Inicis, and Kakao. With its fast growth and precise business model, KCD is one of the most interesting startups in the field of mobile accounting software.
But what caused him to take the challenging and risky step of starting a new company? Had he ever experienced unavoidable challenges in the past? We met up with Mr. Kim to chat about KCD and its various projects.
Platum: You founded a new startup four months after resigning from another job. Had you started planning KCD before you quit IDINCU?
Dongho Kim: I was going to rest for one year. I had been at a company for three years and was at a startup I founded for five years. I spent about eight years working with no proper vacation. I wanted to spend a year studying industries that I did not know much about. I did not plan thoroughly before I made my move. I started by talking with people around me who were involved in offline businesses like restaurants and bars, and I spent time listening to their stories. One of my realisations while talking with them was that I did not have a full understanding of how important offline businesses are to our economy. Then, naturally, I began to take interest on the finances of these offline businesses. Ultimately it became the core idea of my next new project.
Platum: What were the problems that led to the starting of CashNote, your new service?
Dongho Kim: Offline business owners need efficient financial services. They have many things to take care of. They tend to wash dishes or vacuum by themselves when part-time workers are out for meals. At the same time, the owners have more significant things to do, such as paying taxes, managing revenue, and checking cash on hand. When customers pay with credit cards, business owners usually have difficulty managing sales because of the different settlement dates. At least six different official documents are needed to account for a basic financial service. An individual commonly needs his or her ID card since many financial services are digitized. But it is a different story when a company wants to use a bank’s financial services, due to the lack of a comprehensive database.
Platum: How does CashNote solve those problems?
Dongho Kim: CashNote has several core features, such as organizing sales and other relevant information in simple formats that are easy to access. There is also a feature that lets users check cash receipts and tax invoices. In the past, business owners have typically downloaded at least four or five applications to manage those receipts and invoices. When using CashNote, all the information appears on Kakaotalk, the largest messaging app in Korea, so you can easily check on your invoices and receipts anytime after you register your business information once. Many people have asked why I began something in fintech after spending years in the user data business. The answer is that nothing is really different for me in these industries. I have been in the data business for the last 10 years, so I have a good grasp of the fintech industry.
Platum: KCD also launched a loan credit evaluation service for small businesses called Creditcheck. Is it no longer in operation?
Dongho Kim: Yes. It was a service that evaluated companies credibility and ability to repay loans. It was used by several companies but is no longer in service.
Platum: Why did you shut down Creditcheck?
Dongho Kim: It was not quite like trial and error, but we had two hypotheses. To provide efficient financial services, we tested Creditcheck and CashNote and examined the results based on users’ experiences. We predicted those two services would run at the same time in good balance because financial services do not display results in a short period of time. We made some inquiries regarding Creditcheck, but CashNote unexpectedly was growing very quickly. By the time CashNote was released in April, we were aiming to sign contracts and provide our services to over 12,000 companies. However, we reached 10,000 companies in three months. Out of the two hypotheses, only one showed an indisputable result, so we decided to focus on the positive one. We went for the ‘select and concentrate’ strategy.
Platum: Was providing the services through Kakaotalk strategically planned?
Dongho Kim: Yes. Our users are generally not that young, and even youngsters are downloading new applications less and less. My question at this point was: “What is a mobile app that 40-50 year old business owners use?” The answer was Kakaotalk. For them, having a smartphone means using Kakaotalk. That Kakao could provide a proper API and operate stable financial services seemed very feasible. That hypothesis was proved valid.
Platum: I’ve heard that CashNote’s number of Daily Active Users (DAU) is quite high. Is that true?
Dongho Kim: If a total of 100 people use our service daily, 97 people use CashNote. DAU of phone call apps will not even be 97%. Once you understand and begin to use the service, you have to open it at least once a day. Because it manages your revenue, it is certain that business owners will make use of the service. Due to many loyal users, our marketing budget was 10 times less than what was expected. The number of clients increased 25 times from our first month to our sixth month.
Platum: What is the business model?
Dongho Kim: For now, we partially charge users, using what we call a “Freemium” strategy. Basic inquiries are now free, and we charge four US dollars for more detailed information. As some clients request entire accounting services, we charge up to USD 50 sometimes.
Platum: How do investors strategically help CashNote aside from the funds they provide?
Dongho Kim: We first received funding from K-cube Ventures and D.Camp. But money is not the only thing we ask for. Good investors directly provide support during the process of developing the business. And we only want good investors. KG Inicis is a payment gate company that has acquired a massive amount of online transaction data, so we will receive huge support when we expand our user target base in the near future. There is not much to say about Kakao, but it surely strengthens the relationships between our business and our clients. We are currently Kakao’s only startup partner in the financial solution field. Our clients and business owners will naturally build up their trust in CashNote.
Platum: It is maybe a bit early to ask, but do you plan go expand overseas?
Dongho Kim: No yet. Jae Eum, CEO of Translink Capital, whom I very much respect, once said: “Do not even try to win an away game when you do not yet win the home games.” A solid foundation is a must for a business to expand into different markets. We know the international markets are more competitive, so we are now focusing on establishing our future-ready foundation.
Platum: What are the short and long term plans for KCD?
Dongho Kim: We plan to become the most outstanding financial services platform with 200,000-300,000 clients in one or two years. In the long term, we hope to become a necessity for small business owners. As everyone downloads Kakaotalk when they buy a smartphone, we hope people think of CashNote when they open a new business.
（Top photo from 699pic.com）
This article, entitled “Interview: How fintech startup KCD continues to rise thanks to its accounting app CashNote”, was written in Korean by Platum, edited by AllTechAsia.